Friday, June 26, 2009
One reason why you haven’t heard much from me recently is because, I’ve been getting reacquainted with some old friends . I’m writing a four-issue revival of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet for Bluewater Comics.
Tom Corbett, Space Cadet was a very popular television show in the 1950s. It was one of the first—if not the first—sf show to be a multimedia hit, spawning a comic strip, a series of books, and other merchandise. The main characters were Tom, Roger Manning and Astro, three cadets studying to become members of the Solar Guard, in “the world beyond tomorrow.”
But you don’t have to have read any of Tom’s previous appearances in order to enjoy this series. We’re trying to make a comic book that’s fun, and accessible, to all readers. In this story, Tom and the others will be encountering the One State, an army with an unusual goal and an unusual origin. The talented John DaCosta will be handling the artistic side of the series.
In my hometown, the Tom Corbett books made up at least half of the science fiction section in the children’s library. So I was a fan of the series long before I saw an episode of the television show. I wrote eight issues of a Tom Corbett comic for Eternity Comics, and I introduced myself to Bluewater Publisher Darren Davis as soon as I heard about his plans to revive the character.
Bluewater has been making waves recently—yes, he did go there—with graphic biographies of prominent American women such as Michele Obama and Sarah Palin. Along with Tom Corbett, the company will also be bringing back such sf series as Logan’s Run and Tek World
The first issue of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet will be out in September, but the official solicitation is in the issue of Previews that arrived in your local comics shop this week. The best way to make sure you get the issue to order it now.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The 2008 presidential campaign even spilled into the normally resistant world of comic books—who cares about presidents when you’re destroying whole realities? --with at least three different publishers offering comic book biographies of the candidates. The ones I read—the Presidential Material series from IDW—were interesting and serious-minded, but never quite came together, either as stories or political documents.
I can be much more enthusiastic about O8: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail by Michael Crowley and Dan Goldman (Three Rivers Press, $17.95). There are several reasons for that, but, before I get into them…
While thinking about this piece, I’ve been frustrated by the fact that there’s no category name that really describes this new wave of non-fiction comics. At least, I haven’t found one. You can’t use “graphic novel,” because they’re not fiction. Books like Persepolis and Fun Home are being labeled “graphic memoirs.” That’s accurate enough, I suppose, and easy to use. But what do you call non-fiction comics about current events or political figures? Graphic non-fiction? Graphic narrative? Graphic biography? Using the phrase “comic book” suggests super heroes, and being comic booky in a negative sense. However, using the word “graphic” suggests that the story is sexually explicit, which isn’t always the case. The New York Times is avoiding the issue entirely, by creating a best-seller list for "graphic books. " Policomics, anyone?
As mentioned above, “08” is subtitled “a graphic diary.” That might not be entirely accurate either, but it does give you a general sense of what the book is about: an overview of the 2008 campaign. That’s a big topic, but Crowley and Goldman are given the time and space to cover it. “08” is roughly 160 pages long, and the creators had a little bit of time to put the events into perspective.
Also, Crowley and Goldman have backgrounds uniquely suited to this project. The former is an editor for The New Republic and the latter produced Shooting War, an excellent graphic novel about brushfire wars (It’s set in a near-future Iraq, but the points it makes apply to more than just that situation.)
Thanks to some concise writing and some clever design work, “08” never seems static or talky. The text is integrated into the overall design of the page, rather than dumped into traditional caption boxes. People who appear for only a panel or two are identified with discreet—but still readable—name lines.
Providing narration and commentary on the proceedings are two fictional reporters: Harlan Jessop and Jason Newbury. Not only is this a clever storytelling technique—a version of which is also being used in Bluewater Comics’ Female Force series BTW —but Jessop bears a very strong resemblance to the late Darren McGavin, playing reporter/supernatural investigator Carl Kolchak. If Newbury is patterned after anyone, I’m afraid I don’t recognize him. (And, no, Jessop is not the only reason why I’m recommending the book. One of the reasons, but not the only one.)
Is “08” biased against any of the candidates? Really, that’s hard to say. I think it’s difficult to describe something as biased. What may be a simple recitation of facts to one reader may be a display of bias to another one. To me, the first thing that came across was a skepticism of the entire electoral process. And if you want to call it a healthy skepticism, I’m not going to argue.
On the other hand, the dividing line between fact and fiction becomes a problem in another part of the book. There’s a two-panel prologue with a young Barry Obama and his mother. As a bit of story-telling, it’s very effective but I’d like to know where it comes from. It may be from Obama’s Dreams From My Father, but, if it is, I wish it were labeled as such.
Reliving last year’s presidential campaign may sound more like a punishment than light reading. But I still think you’ll be pleased if you pick up a copy of 08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
Watchmen, the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, is about to enter an exclusive club—stories that were turned into movies even though they were generally considered to be unfilmable.
I’m actually cautiously optimistic that Watchmen is going to be a good movie, but the transition isn’t going to be easy. Like Dune and Lord Of the Rings before it, Watchmen takes place on a different world. Yes, it’s Earth, but it’s a parallel Earth that has been radically altered by the presence of costumed vigilantes.
In the original, Moore and Gibbons use two basic techniques to tackle their world-building: excerpts from fictional documents, and putting strange items in a scene, often without drawing a lot of attention to them.
Neither technique, unfortunately, adapts well to movies, particularly at a time when directors are under constant pressure to Keep It Moving. With a book, or a comic, you always have the option to spend extra time on a scene, rereading some dialogue or looking at the poster in the background. That’s a lot harder to do when you’re watching a movie in a theater.
At the same time, if you take away too much of the background, you might take away some of the things that make the story unique. Or, worse yet, you may render the story incomprehensible to someone that hasn’t read the original—which I think is the biggest obstacle that any Watchmen movie is going to face.
For example…I once read a bootleg copy of a proposed Watchmen script, credited to Sam Hamm (who is probably best known for writing the script for Tim Burton’s Batman). Actually, I read about a third of it. I stopped at that point because the writer was still working on an action sequence which explained why super heroes being outlawed in this world. It’s easy to understand why a screenwriter would want to start a film with a strong action set piece, but the script hadn’t started to tell the original story yet.
I’m also reminded of how, during the original release of David Lynch’s Dune in 1984, theater owners were giving out pre-printed sheets—prepared by the studio, I suppose—listing the unusual terms that the viewer was about to encounter.
I don’t whether the approach Director Zack Snyder and the Watchmen crew is taking solves this problem. But they certainly are taking advantage of the options available to them. Short films explaining the setting are popping up on the Web. They seem to be available at different places, but , for some one-stop viewing, I suggest going to www.thenewfrontiersman.net. Short videos, fake documents and stills are available here. So far, my favorite videos are the ones explaining how Doctor Manhattan (the most powerful super hero on this Earth) won the war in Vietnam, and a school-scare style film about the Keene Act, the law that made costumed vigilantes illegal. Yes, I know this sort of thing is only going to increase the cost of making genre movies, but they’re still a lot of fun and may even be useful under certain circumstances.
There’s also a link at the New Frontiersman to an intentionally primitive-looking video game that was supposedly created in the 1970s in this film. It’s not my cuppa, but it may be yours. Just click on the quarter.
Another good place for background material that I’ve found is Watchmen: The Film Companion by Peter Aperlo. This book, which is now on sale, features profiles of nearly everyone in the cast, including Richard M. Nixon, who serving his fifth term as president when the story begins.
In addition, “Companion” gives you a chance to take a closer look at things that I suspect are going to pass in a few frames in the movie. My favorites include: Doctor Manhattan, reflected in the visor of Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit as Armstrong steps onto the moon; what appear to be Andy Warhol and Truman Capote, at the unveiling of a Warhol-type painting of super hero called Nite Owl and a cover from Tales of the Black Freighter, the most popular comic book in this world. What do comic book publishers do when you see super heroes on the daily news? Apparently they move into pirate stories.
Speaking of the Black Freighter, there’s going to be animated version of Tales of the Black Freighter appearing on DVD about the same time as Watchmen arrives in the theaters. I’m not sure that any attempt to tell the full story of the Black Freighter is going to end well, but I have to admire their attention to detail.
With all this ancillary material, you may be assuming that a special edition Watchmen DVD is in the works. Well, you’re half right. There are two special editions in the works. The latest word is that the theatrical version of Watchmen will be two hours and 37 minutes long. The first DVD version release will be three hours and 10 minutes long, while the second one will clock in at three hours and 25 minutes.
Does all this mean that Watchman is going to be a good movie? I have no idea. But I think I’m going to have fun finding out.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
1. William Tenn
2. John Brunner
3. Robert Benchley
4. Pablo Neruda
5. Robert Anton Wilson
6. H. Beam Piper
7. Andre Norton
8. John Dos Passos
9. Spike Milligan
10. Edison Marshall
11. Clifford Simak
12. Tom Sharpe
13. Steven Saylor
14. S. J. Perlman
15. Seamus Heaney
16. Cordwainer Smith
17. Robert Heinlein
18. Sinclair Lewis
19, Bernard Cornwall
20. John Mortimer
21. George O Stewart
22. Anthony Burgess
23. Mary Oliver
24. H.G. Wells
25. Alan Furst
In celebration National Egotism Week, I recently posted this on my Facebook:
1. My cat Xanthippe is named for the wife of Socrates. Like her namesake, she is opinionated and never silent. She is my one true love.
2. I have a large teddy bear puppet named Tacitus.
3. My grandfather Ramsey was a union organizer for the United Mine Workers. In his youth he marched with Mother Jones and was a card carrying member of the IWW. He died the year I was born, but stories from his life formed my political worldview.
4. I put olive oil and parmesan cheese on my air-popped popcorn.
5. All of my World of Warcraft characters are female.
6. I once drummed for 4 hours with Babatunde Olatunji.
7. In 1631, a rival sheriff walled up one of my ancestors in an alcove in a Scottish castle and left him to starve to death. The rest of my family decamped to the Pennsylvania frontier soon afterwards.
8. I am a compulsive reader. I've read over 6000 books and l read every bit of print that crosses my vision. I can read an upside down bit of type as fast as a right side up one. And until my 50's I could remember 95% of what I read...
9. I love music. All kinds...Mongolian folk, West African pop, New Guinean rock, French chanson, salsa, American roots, classical, electronica, oldies, country.... all of it..anything authentic. That said, I don't think there is a commercial radio station in North America that's worth listening to...
10. I have been on the committees for 10 World Science Conventions and over 25 regional ones. I have also chaired 5 regional cons. I am the founder of both the Penn State Science Fiction Society and the Central Pennsylvania Science Fiction Association.
11. I am the oldest of 10 children.
12. I once walked the length of Broadway from the northern tip of Manhattan down to Battery Park.
13. My handwriting is so bad that sometimes I can't decipher it myself. There are some killer poems in my notebooks lost to the ages...sigh...
14. I love movie musicals and secretly long to star in one...
15. I was once the operations manager of a 1500 person food co-op. This experience led me to formulate Ramsey's First Law of Life: Never be the only paid employee in a large all-volunteer organizarion.
16. Ramsey's Second Law of Life: Whenever someone tries to tell you Science Fiction is predictive, remember that all the stories said our phones would be in our watches. In fact, our watches are now in our phones.
17. I am living proof of the adage that you will keep the bookstore open until whatever money you have runs out.
18. I get along with most dogs and all cats far better than I get along with most people.
19. I am a happy drunk, was a sleepy stoner and have been a very, very bad person to piss off.
20. I once spent 25 minutes talking to Jim Henson in the green room at a World Science Fiction Convention. When we met again 3 years later, he asked after Beowulf, my chief puppet, and told me to tell him that Kermit said hi.
21. Once, in a Sunday School class, I had a loud argument with the pastor over evolution during which he told me to just shutup and learn. I left the church and never went back.
22. I have been a secular Taoist since age 14. My Path hasn't been the easiest or the most difficult, but I have tried to stay with it.
23. In 2007, the Juniata College Library established The Loyal F Ramsey Science Fiction Collection. There are currently 4500 volumes cataloged. 5000+ remain to be cataloged.
24. I starred as one Ivan Troglodyte, minion, in James Morrow's short film "Naomi Netherreach and the Recycling Saboteurs"
25. Along with our worthy Kolchak I was a founding member of Slobbovia, the very first role playing game. Played by mail in monthly issues of the Slobinpolit Zhurnal, the object of the game was storytelling. Anyone who actually tried to "win" the game became an object of scorn from the other players...
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush..... Former President George W. Bush.....
That's sooooo nice!
Keith Olbermann tells us what the NeoScum accomplished and why we need to hold this grudge until the scum who did this are all ground up and thrown into the dustbin of history
Friday, January 16, 2009
May I never see your fucking smurking face again, except during your sentencing at the upcoming war crimes trial.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Friday, January 09, 2009
(Or, Kolchak gets into shape by jumping to conclusions.)
I’m not a truck driver—and I’m sure that comes as a big surprise to everyone—but I drive the interstates often enough to have noticed a few changes in truck stops.
Another change seems to be taking place on the paperback rack. You can find a lot of westerns and war stories at truck stops—sorry, travel centers—but I don’t think that’s new. What may be new is the number of science fiction and fantasy novels you can find. There seems to be a focus on series books, rather than individual novels : Star Trek novels in sf and series like Forbidden Realms and Warhammer in fantasy.
Over at the audiobook rack, things are changing too. On my most recent trips, I’ve been looking at a series of CDs that are described as full-cast dramatizations and “Movies for your mind.” This series features adaptations of prose stories featuring DC super heroes and post-holocaust action stories.
I’ve seen four different series in the latter category: Death Lands; Outlanders; The Survivalist and Doomsday Warrior. I know the first two are active series, but I’m pretty sure The Survivalist is out-of-print and I think Doomsday Warrior is too.